Seats for this year’s August primary are unchallenged in the Grand-Isle Chittenden House district, which serves the Champlain Islands and part of Milton.

Incumbent House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and her seatmate, Ben Joseph – both Democrats – will face Republicans Leland Morgan and Michael Morgan in the general election November 6.

So voters can get to know the candidates before then, the Milton Independent posed them a series of questions, giving a 400-word limit to split between three answers. They were also asked to provide a short biography.

Another round of questions will be posed before the general election. Joseph declined participation until that time.

Here are the questions and each candidate’s responses:

  1. Why are you running for office, and why are you qualified to serve?
  2. If elected, what will be your main priority and why?
  3. How should the state address education funding in the future?

 

MITZI JOHNSON
Democrat, Incumbent

Bio:

  • I moved to Islands to farm after graduating from UVM 25 years ago
  • I volunteered nearly 20 years on South Hero Rescue, substitute-taught in local schools and served on the South Hero Land Trust board
  • I grew up helping in my family’s small manufacturing business
  • Through my work at Hunger Free Vermont, I helped to improve access to nutritious foods for Milton and Island kids in childcare, schools and summer programs, and I currently serve on the board of the Vermont Food Bank

Responses:
1.I am running for re-election to help make government work better for you, and to build a strong, healthy future for Vermont. We need a Vermont that work for everyone, not just those who can afford it. I have worked to make government more accessible for Vermonters, and try to keep you informed through articles in the Milton Independent and the Islander, and being available to hear your thoughts. In my role as Speaker of the House, I have worked to facilitate tri-partisan, compromise legislation on education finance, health care, economic development and many other issues. We need to all work together for Vermont!

2.My top priority – as it has been for a number of years – is to continue to make the budget sustainable, affordable and accountable. Under my leadership as Chair of the Appropriations Committee last term and Speaker of the House this term, we have reduced budget growth each year, increased our reserves to help Vermonters weather potential federal cuts and future recessions, and made excellent progress paying down our debt in retirement funds that would otherwise cripple our budgets in a few years. I have been rolling out a process to thoughtfully invest money in programs Vermonters support, with efficient process and effective results. We’ve started using tracking performance results in every state agency, and rolling out “lean” process improvement initiatives that are already reducing wait times and saving taxpayers money.

3.One of my major initiatives as Speaker this year was to reform our education funding system, and if re-elected, I will continue. This year, I was able to get major reform legislation passed in the House with strong support from across the political spectrum. Some parts of it became law, such as preventing “raiding” of the education fund that hurts your property taxes. A few key parts did not (yet!) become law: reducing our over-reliance on the property tax to fund our schools and creating more cost containment that the current system has, by more closely tied budget decisions to property tax rates. Those pieces would have dropped Milton’s property taxes by approximately 15 cents. If elected, I intend to continue this work- always keeping the quality of education for our children at the heart of the discussion!

 

LELAND MORGAN
Republican

Bio:

  • Retired
  • Lifelong resident of Milton
  • Graduate of Milton High School
  • Attended Champlain College
  • Graduated from the University of Vermont
  • Graduate work at St. Michael’s College
  • Retired officer from the Vermont Air National Guard
  • Former business owner
  • Former teacher
  • Have served on the Milton School Board and Milton Selectboard
  • Former justice of the peace
  • Served on the Board of Civil Authority
  • Former notary public
  • Have held a real estate broker’s license
  • Have owned rental properties
  • Avid outdoorsman, certified SCUBA diver and supporter of Vermont Traditions
  • Married with two adult children and one granddaughter
  • Former state representative

1.I am running for state representative because I have become increasingly concerned about the direction Vermont is going. The cost of living in Vermont is continuing to rise. Many young people leave the state to live where it is more affordable, as do many retired people. This state is very business unfriendly, maybe even anti-business. The laws, rules, regulations, acts, zoning, taxes and fees discourage people from starting a business or moving a business to Vermont. We advertise the beautiful mountains and lakes, but it takes more than that to bring and keep businesses and people here. I am concerned about continually rising taxes, rising fees, new taxes and new fees, even though we have a decreasing school population and an overall population decline in general.

I am also concerned that our long held Vermont traditions are now under attack. I believe my biography answers the question as to why I am qualified to serve, along with the fact that I have already served as a state representative.

2. My main priority would be to address the high cost of living in Vermont. It drives young talented people out of Vermont. It drives retired people on fixed incomes out of Vermont. Businesses leave Vermont and businesses don’t come to Vermont. It is time that we consider this problem, take some action, and get something done.

  3. This question of funding is getting to be an age old question that no one can answer. As a former teacher and former school board member, I often think about this. I remember a time when each town had control of its educational system and the people in that town decided what they could afford to spend. Granted, we weren’t offered every program in the world, but we got a good basic education and survived it well. Are students today getting a better education than I did?

The federal and state governments have so many rules, regulations, mandates, etc. that the concept of teachers teaching and students learning seems to have been forgotten. I believe that returning local control to each town should be considered very seriously.

 

MICHAEL R. MORGAN
Republican

Bio:

  • 1979 graduate of Milton High School
  • Bachelor of Science, United States Air Force Academy, 1983
  • 38-year veteran/retiree from U.S. Air Force/Vermont Air National Guard
  • Attained the rank of colonel – vice commander, 158th Fighter Wing and human resources director for Vermont National Guard
  • 6-year business co-owner of a construction and trucking company (1988-1993)
  • Town of Milton Selectman, nine years – 1989-1998, vice chairman for three years
  • Town of Milton moderator, 2005-present
  • Member – Board of Civil Authority
  • Chairman of National Guard Committee for Legislative Affairs in Washington D.C., 2008-present
  • Father to son, Dylan, and daughter, Leah

1. Vermont is on a vector of high taxation and unparalleled spending. One party virtually owns a super majority in the House (the Senate is already there) which would guarantee a complete single-party rule with no checks and balances left. This is a dangerous, slippery slope for us to be on. I plan to be that voice for parity and to represent traditional Vermont values, individual rights and to work for common-sense legislation that fits the true needs of Vermonters.

I am eminently qualified for a multitude of reasons. First, I am a proven leader from a fast-paced, and complex military organization that was combat ready and proven. My 38 years of service shaped me into the take charge leader that I am/can be. Second, I have political experience on the town level and was constantly re-elected due to my rapport and close interface with the community. Last, I am a successful prior business owner and know what it takes to navigate an operation with a profit.

2. My main priority will be to address the loss of businesses to other states with more business-friendly climates and the consequent hemorrhaging of our youth to other states for work. Vermont politicians have made it extremely difficult for business owners to thrive and sustain quality, good paying jobs. Numbers of businesses exit Vermont annually for much more friendly environments in other states. With this business loss comes the exit of our youth at a rapid rate. There are no jobs available to them to uphold a decent quality of life.

As I speak to voters in the Grand Isle – Chittenden District, out of control taxation is directly linked to this loss of business. We have to find a way to get spending under control as Vermonters are paying way more than they truly can afford. There is a steady exodus of people to states with far less tax burden; especially of those folks on fixed incomes. We must do something about this!

3. Again, when speaking with voters, school taxes have become untenable. At our Town Meeting this year, the town school district business manager briefed that only 10 percent of the school’s budget was truly managed by our school board the other 90 percent was dictated, by federal and state laws. We need to give local control back to our towns – it worked in the past.